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The Status of Emotions in Gaston Bachelards Philosophy of Science

Thanks to the readings of Didier Gil

This intervention aims at the exploration of the use of emotions in science

and their specific role in Gaston Bachelards philosophy of science. For
methodological purposes, I decided to first explore this topic in Bachelards
epistemology in order to redefine the philosophical status of emotions within his
philosophy of mind, rationality, objectivity and of free imagination. But I want,
already to underline that it is only a first approach. The investigation will have to
be extended to the other part of Bachelards work. Indeed, he is also known for
his research on the poetic image and imagination theory. For a complete
investigation it would be necessary to connect both aspects of Bachelard work.
The starting point of this investigation is a remark from the French
philosophers Louis Althusser, Pierre-Francois Moreau and Didier Gil. They
underline the significant spinozian inspiration when Bachelard evocates the
joyful imagination. So, by reactivating and up dating the objects and methods of
Bachelards epistemology I will attempt to develop a problematic that connects
this question of philosophy of science with the field of philosophy of emotions by
tracing the status of emotions in Bachelards description of the stages of mind.
Bachelard does not undertake a systematic approach of emotions, nor does
either build a specific problematic about the mechanism of their transformation
or interaction with the mind or the body. But there is still a remarkable use of
emotion terms, such as love, joy, happiness, confusion, fear, anger etc, connected
with intellectual procedures and stages. And in a way, he is interested in the
status of emotions and their effect not only in scientific mind formation but more
generally in the evolution of the mind and its relation to the evolution of the
human being as a whole. Contrary to the logico-positivist tradition of philosophy
of science, in his epistemology, there is also an original interest in psychology
and psychoanalysis, which Bachelard uses in his own way, interest determined
by the interaction between cognitive and affect in scientific research.

1. Preliminary lexical remarks

First, I would like to point out two problems in the translation of the French
terms affective and esprit in English. In the English translation of the
Philosophy of No, the noun affectivit , in the expression charge daffectivit,
(Bachelard G. [1940] (1966), 23) is translated as the adjective emotional,
emotional overload and in the next page, where he speaks about affectivit
reduite (Bachelard G. [1940] (1966), 24) the translation is reduced affectivity.

Finally the translation of bloquage affectif (Bachelard G. [1940] (1966), 130) is

emotional blockage. The distinction between emotion and affect is blurred.
The english translation of the term esprit as mind and not as spirit,
makes clear the question of the ambiguity, of the French term esprit. Its
comfortable nature appears in Lalandes dictionary of philosophy: according to
Lalande esprit is something that is opposed to matter, to nature and to flesh
(which represents the whole of our instincts). But the ambiguity of the French
term esprit lets open a reading of Bachelards philosophy of science that
considers together the spirit, the mind and the matter, since there is no more
dualism between them, no more gap between esprit and matire. The
distinction between the two poles is only to serve the interest of their
reunification within a holistic approach that shows their closed links. This
feature of Bachelard epistemology invites us to think about his non-cartesianism,
or even more exactly, about his spinozian inspiration.

2. Emotions in Bachelards philosophy

But what is emotion for Bachelard? In one of his latest books The applied
rationalism, and in the chapter Intellectual self survey, Bachelard attempts to
define the emotions describing how they appear in our expressions and our
incapacity to prevent them: emotions, desires, pain, pleasure are direct
manifestations. They can be read in the features of our face. And in their
elementary form, they are escaping of our control (Bachelard G. [1949] (2004),
66). On that point the emotion is opposed to the reflective thought that in a
second time, can inhibit the first one.
Eleven years earlier the term emotion appears in The formation of scientific
mind, where psychoanalysis is one of the constitutive elements of his
epistemology, obvious by the sub-title, a contribution to the psychoanalysis of
knowledge. This time emotion appears when he gives a paradigm from the 18th
century of a successful explication of a physical phenomenon from a biological
one. And even if, according to Bachelard, biological sciences during the 18th
century are not a good example for his purpose, because they are usually
overloaded with ideologies about life and nature, this time he is not making a
simple reference to the obscure intuition of life, of the deaf emotion of vital
satisfaction (Bachelard G. [1938] (1999), 161). Once more, emotions are
positioned in the lower stages of knowledge, since they are produced by a vital
satisfaction, that means they result from a psychological and egoistical source,
connected with human instincts. And Bachelard, by the adjective deaf, wants to
underline their muffled character and by this way, to show their persistency and
their implicitly action in the formation of scientific mind.

3. The stages of mind

So Bachelard yields a characteristic property in the mind activity in which all
faculties equally participating: the constant process of rectification of first
knowledge coming from immediate perception, until reaching a classified,
rational and objective scientific knowledge, obtained by progressive normative
This specific conception of the scientific process becomes obvious through
the schematic representation of the stages of the scientific mind. These
spiritualistic schemes could be perceived as a legacy from his teacher
Bruncshvicg. Also, Bachelards distinction between different stages of mind not
only reminds the stages of mind proposed by Spinoza but also answers to those
of Comtes philosophy connected with his idea of progress. So Bachelard
persistent preoccupation with the process of the mind involved in scientific labor
is developed in three different books.
In the The formation of scientific mind, Bachelard proposes one historical
periodization, with the first prescientific period from classic antiquity to the end
of 18th century, the second scientific period till 19th century, and finally the third
new scientific period of 20th century. Then, and outside of any historical context,
he tries an epistemological periodization distinguishing 3 stages of scientific
mind: the concret one, the concret-abstract and the abstract state. Finally, the
spiritualistic grilles becoming blurred by the loans that he makes from
psychoanalysis. And in consequence as Bachelard wrote, he has been driven, by
the two other historical and epistemological stages, to study the evolution of the
soul, where the childish soul is the first one, the professoral the second and the
last one: the soul trying to reach abstraction and quintessence.
Two years later, in the Philosophy of no, he tests a philosophical spectrum
trying this time to represent the epistemological profile of notions, such as
mass and energy, that points out the various epistemological perspectives that
we have for those notions. This profile represents not only the progress in time
of our epistemological systems, but also the actual epistemological grade of our
mind. We could conclude that the prescientific or common mind is connected
with naf realism, the scientific with clear empiricism-positivism and classical
rationalism 2 and 3. Finally, the new scientific mind corresponds to complete and
discursive rationalism.
Nine years later, in the Applied rationalism, he proposes a new diagram, a
philosophical topology. He separates the 18th century from Antiquity and
Middle Ages, and thus the new scientific spirit becomes the 4th stage (Bachelard
G. [1949] (2004), 102). That explains the introduction of a new element in his
topology of mind: the experimental and technological aspect of sciences, the
phainomenotechnique as he calls it, a concept which aims at conceiving of
technology not as an eventual byproduct of scientific activity, but as constitutive
of the contemporary scientific modus operandi itself.

By this way, he constitutes a symmetrical philosophical system where

common mind corresponds to realism in one side and idealism in the other side,
the prescientific mind to empiricism and conventionalism, the scientific to
positivism and formalism, and finally the new scientific to applied rationalism
and technical materialism.

4. Common and scientific mind

We can already distinguish two basic stages: the common mind ( opinion doxa) and the scientific one. Those two stages are not connected linearly. During
the break between them, is exceeded the state and the liabilities of a thought that
is elaborated within the confusion, nourished by pervAsively present images and
ideas, and also by intimate convictions and values. Those constitute the
obstacles, a decisive notion of Bachelards epistemology. And in the three
books, Bachelard expresses the necessity in the scientific process to deal with
obstacles, since they are inherent in the act of knowing intimately" (G.
Bachelard [1938] (1999) 13). Bachelard determines different kinds of
obstacles to knowledge such as the animist, the verbal, or the substantialistic.
They are psychological, ideological, vital, egoistical, or even socially formatted.
Thus the mind has to overtake the obstacles at the first stage attempting to reach
the stage of the "scientific mind." In contrast to the first one, it is characterized by
its dynamism. It is the workspace of the imagination, the place of the invention,
and of the reciprocal and dynamic links between intersubjectivity and
The positive emotions appear in this higher stage that Bachelard defined as a
double philosophy, as a dialogic philosophy between applied rationalism and
technical materialism, stage where the abstraction is liberated from direct
experience and where notions are the result of a complete and discursive
rationalism. On the contrary, the negative, misleading or trivial emotions appear
to be linked to the obstacle, as product of obstacles or cause of obstacles.

5. The emotions as obstacles and product of obstacles

According to Bachelard, first there is the concrete stage in which the mind
delights in the phenomenons first image (G. Bachelard [1938] (1999) 8). He
refers to an ephemeral delight provoked by an observation of natural
phenomena accumulated assertorically by direct experience and senses. So
empirical contradictions are amassed. And the astonishment is systematically
sought in order to catch peoples interest. (G. Bachelard [1938] (1999) 35)
The emotion of love also appears in the presientific period, especially in
alchemy, natural history and astronomy, as the word which entrains

everything (G. Bachelard [1938] (1999) 63). Here, Bachelard mentions love for
easy answers and personal confirmations and opposed this kind of love to the
love of questions and research. (G. Bachelard [1938] (1999) 15). Then love is
used to explain arbitrary attractions, qualities, or natures of elements, animals,
plants, human and planets.
Also In the first stage, utilitarianism and personal values can lead to a
dangerous intellectual enjoyment in a hasty and easy generalization (G.
Bachelard [1938] (2002en) 67), or even to a joyful extension of a first obtained
phenomenon r of a first theory. (G. Bachelard [1938] (2002en) 111) That is
the reason why for Bachelard in the first stage of knowledge it exists a
valorization [here] that goes undiscussed, that is endlessly invoked in everyday
life, and that is ultimately a cause of confusion for experience and for scientific
thought (G. Bachelard [1938] (2002en) 35). And that is why confusion reigned
throughout the pre-scientific era (G. Bachelard [1938] (2002en) 102)
But for Bachelard human is a specie who needs to mutate, who suffers by
not changing (G. Bachelard [1938] (1999) 16). And a conversion is needed by
spiritual revolutions of mind, of interests, of values or of emotions

6. Affective base of mind formation

To achieve this conversion, we cant in any case neglect the study of the
lower forms of the psyche if we wish to describe every aspect of mental and
spiritual energy and prepare the cognitive-affective control that is indispensable
for the improvement of the scientific mind (Bachelard G. [1938] (2001), 19).
That is why, in all his work, there is an major discussion about the role of
the affective character of the intellectual culture (G. Bachelard [1938] (1999)
9) and the need for a psychoanalysis and for "an intellectual and affective
catharsis (G. Bachelard [1938] (1999) 18).
And even if until his last book, and after a series of studies about poetic
imagination, Bachelard abandons the possibility of a total catharsis from images
and ideas, and claims the right to dream giving thus an important role to a
more fruitful and creative imagination, he still underlines the stability and
permanent presence of a psychologism which must be always under
So for Bachelard, and till his last epistemological text, we must put a little
psychology in the formulas, so a non-psychologism in action its been developed
by erasing the psychologism" ( G. Bachelard [1949] (2004) 13.)

7. Joy and Love

Then a psychoanalysis has to be activated within the scientific formation
process in order to reach the positive emotions, emotions resulting from the
certainty of his steps to the future.
Only science can give the joy of possessing something tangible and sure
(Bachelard G. [1938] (1999), 239), because science it is the only one that is able
to produce a truth through procedures of verification. The emotion of joy is
linked to the responsibility of objectivation within the collective dimension of
scientific research (G. Bachelard [1949] (2004 ), 73). By this way, joy is not only
connected to the acquisition of knowledge but also to the process of
transmission of knowledge through the relationship between teacher and
student, the joy to share together the path of a scientific demonstration, a
paradigm of a dynamic and clear reason.
Joy rises at the moment of absolutely coherency, at the moment of harmony
between all the faculties of the mind. Joy is the common point for eyes and mind
(G. Bachelard [1949] (2004 ), 118). The pleasure is something that is produced
by a double knowledge, constituted by sensible and intellectual intuition (G.
Bachelard [1949] (2004), 18) and which permit us to make rational a
phenomenon of experience, but also to keep the pleasure of viewing.
Finally science can offer a love for the contradictory qualities which is the
deeply love (Bachelard G. [1938] (1999), 218), and that because only in science
we have to considerate the abnormal so to define the normal, the error to
produce the truth, and only in science we have to confront with the difficulty,
which is in mean time a fruitfull problem to solve. So only during scientific labor
we can love what we destroy, we can continue a past by denying it, we can
venerate our teacher by contradicting , (Bachelard G. [1938] (1999), 301)
meaning that, scientific rationalism brings a rupture with the past of our thought,
with Authenticity, and that science is not an augmentation of knowledge, but the
reduction of our first knowledge. That is why the love for science must be a
psychological autogenic dynamism (Bachelard G. [1938] (1999), 13)
At the stages of the scientific satisfaction and of the mind fulfillment, with
the implication of scientific tools and the creation of its own objects, the
rationalism allows us to "break " and move from the "perception reputed to be
accurate" to the "happily inspired abstraction" (Bachelard G. [1938] (1999), 18).
Rationalism multiplies the objections against a first and general, thus confused,
understanding, rationalism links objects and phenomena of the first experience
and of sensational knowledge organizing them in a set of propositions,
separating them, highlighting the fundamental concepts and reducing them to
simplest principles and methods. And by their successful applications, the
scientific elaboration is carrying the happily sign of laboratory (Bachelard G.
[1938] (1999), 28).